This week (March 27 to 31), in Year 2 of a four-year partnership between the Center for Israel Education and the Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School, students have been immersed in the world of Israeli politics.
Over the course of the week, AJA ninth- to 12th-graders are spending 15 hours learning about Israel’s election system, the function of the various branches of its government, the role and platforms of political parties, and the inner workings of the Knesset.
CIE designed the curriculum and program in conjunction with a group of AJA students, applying input from a team of Judaics faculty members led by Rabbi Reuven Travis.
“Being part of the planning process for Israel Seminar Week made me feel like I have a voice in what goes on at school,” said Thelet Bunder, a senior at AJA who served on the student planning team. “I was able to help come up with ideas as well as bring ideas from my previous experiences, such as the AIPAC Schusterman High School Summit. Together with the rest of the planning committee, we were able to create an interactive, thought-provoking week for the AJA Upper School students to enjoy.”
Engaging American Jewish students with the Israeli political system should be an important cornerstone of Israel education. Helping learners understand how and why certain issues become part of a party’s platform and the process by which those issues become law is critical in the way we connect with and understand current events in the Jewish state, as well as the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Without a strong scaffolding in the Israeli political system and process, American Jews lose important context and perspective. This is especially true when we disagree with a Knesset decision, try to understand how a coalition government creates policy, or are alienated by the actions of the prime minister.
“As someone already interested in civics, this year’s seminar topic was particularly engaging,” AJA senior Zoie Wittenberg said.
Zoie, who also works as an intern with StandWithUs, added, “Comparing and contrasting the American government, which I am rather familiar with, to the Israeli government, which I like to pretend I understand — honestly, do any of us really understand coalition government? — evoked heated discussions and debates.”
The program will continue each of the next two academic years with in-depth examinations of Israeli culture, society and foreign relations.
Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education